Police Brutality and the Police Executive Research Forum
Police Brutality: An Epidemic
The police shooting of Trayvon Martin in February 2012 sparked a movement now known as Black Lives Matter that campaigns against police brutality and racial profiling of African Americans. Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old African American was shot and killed by neighborhood watch coordinator George Zimmerman on February 26, 2012, in Florida. The shooting received national attention, not only because Martin was 17, but also because he was unarmed.
Black Lives Matter is an activist movement that began in 2013 after the acquittal of Zimmerman, recognized for its protests of police shootings. Since 2013, there have been the shootings of Eric Gardner, Michael Brown, and Tamir Rice, to name a few, and more recently, the shooting of Atatiana Jefferson.
Black Lives Matter, But the Violence Continues
A report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics estimated roughly 1,200 people were killed by police between June 2015 and May 2016. A more recent report by the Police Violence Report suggests over 1,100 killings by police in 2017, compiling data from media reports, obituaries, public records, and databases. With movements such as Black Lives Matter, one would expect the number of police shootings to decrease, overall, shootings have stayed consistent. This suggests an issue within the Police Academy as well as the departments themselves.
While applicant requirements differ between states, police academies generally offer training in defensive tactics, community-orientated policing, firearms, defensive driving, report writing, ethics, traffic enforcement, and crime scene investigation. While these training classes are necessary, they aren't enough, as police shootings continue to appear in the news.
More recently, Atatiana Jefferson was shot and killed in her own home in Fort Worth, Texas. A concerned neighbor had seen her front door ajar and called the Fort Worth Police to request a wellness check. The responding officer was Aaron Dean, who joined the department in April 2018. Bodycam footage revealed Dean had failed to identify himself as police and fired through her window after seeing movement.
Is Police Training at Fault?
Many police shootings or police brutality cases share the common use of excessive force, leading to more and more public outcry, but more importantly, showing how unprepared recruits are after graduating from the police academy. “In 2015, The Police Executive Research Forum conducted a survey of PERF member agencies on the training they provide to new recruits in the police academy and to experienced officers during in-service training. The PERF survey found that while agencies spend a median of 58 hours of recruit training on firearms and another 49 hours on defensive tactics, they spend only about 8 hours of recruit training each on the topics of de-escalation, crisis intervention, and Electronic Control Weapons."
The Police Executive Research Forum
Consequently, the Police Executive Research Forum created 30 principles for policies, training and tactics, equipment, and information issues with respect to police use of force. Many Police departments adopted these principles as their own as well as included them in their mission statement. For example, the Philadelphia Police Department’s current mission statement is, “It is the policy of the Philadelphia Police Department, that officers hold the highest regard for the sanctity of human life, dignity, and liberty of all persons. The application of deadly force is a measure to be employed only in the most extreme circumstances and all lesser means of force have failed or could not be reasonably employed."
While these principles are intended to better combat the issue of excessive use of force, whether all police departments are following these principles is another question. Additionally, some principles may be harder to implement than others, or more time consuming, which could consequently put them on the back burner. A principle that may be harder to implement is principle 14, which is that training academy content and culture must reflect agency values. While seemingly simple enough, many police academies may have outdated training with instructors who have been out of the field for a long time. The issue of instructors themselves not understanding the current issues with the use of force or simply not agreeing with the updated training is not uncommon.
More principles that directly correlate with police brutality would be principle 24, principle 13, and principle 10. Principle 24 states that scenario-based training should be prevalent, challenging, and realistic. While not justified, officers may use excessive force in a scenario they are untrained for. Principle 24 suggests there should be more real-life scenarios with a focus on their decision-making skills with the possibility of multiple outcomes.
Principle 13 advises agencies to be transparent in providing information following use-of-force incidents. Taken directly from the Critical Issues in Policing Series, agencies that experience an officer-involved shooting or another serious use-of-force incident should release as much information as possible to the public. At a minimum, agencies should release basic, preliminary information about an incident within hours of its occurrence, and should provide regular updates as new information becomes available.
Lastly, principle 10 suggests that agencies document use-of-force incidents, and review data and enforcement practices to ensure that they are fair and non-discriminatory. Documentation of any and every instance of excessive use of force would be critical in improvements to policing and any training curriculum. Additionally, a review of the documentation can determine whether there was any bias or discriminatory action by the use of force.
While these principles could decrease the possibility of police brutality, stricter recruit requirements would be beneficial such as psychological evaluations, and references to gather any biased opinions and behaviors. Police departments are slowly enacting policies in order to ensure their officers are trained and certified to handle any and every situation, many of which using the 30 principles as a guideline. Keep in mind that the principles showcased are no more important than the rest as they all are essential to reduce excessive use of force.
The hope for the Police Executive Research Forum is that in the short term, these recommended guidelines help police officers do their jobs more effectively and safely, resulting in fewer injuries and fatalities to themselves and members the public, and that in the long term, these guidelines help rebuild trust between the police and the residents they serve.
- “Guiding Principles On Use of Force.” Police Forum, Police Executive Research Forum, 2016, www.policeforum.org/assets/30%20guiding%20principles.pdf.
- “Mapping Police Violence.” Mapping Police Violence, mappingpoliceviolence.org/.
- “Minneapolis Police Academy.” Minneapolis Police Academy - City of Minneapolis, 2019, minneapolismn.gov/police/recruiting/reqs/police_recruiting_academy.
- The New York Times. “What We Know About the Fort Worth Police Shooting of Atatiana Jefferson.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 15 Oct. 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/10/15/us/aaron-dean-atatiana-jefferson.html.
- Police Executive Research Forum. “Re-Engineering Training On Police Use of Force.” Police Forum, 2015, www.policeforum.org/assets/reengineeringtraining1.pdf.